An enduring symbol of peace, the olive tree offers a marvelous gift of delicious and varied fruit, a healthy source of monounsaturated fat, vitamin E, and fiber. Olives eaten whole, called table olives, are first cured or pickled in oil, water, or brine to mellow their natural bitterness; the method determines the olive’s eventual flavor, texture, and color. If you’ve gazed at the glistening orbs populating your natural market’s olive bar but don’t know a kalamata from a picholine, use this guide to pull together a selection for your next party.
Castelvetrano. Shaped like large marbles, these bright green olives from Sicily are wonderfully meaty, with a sweet-savory balance. They are often pressed into fruit olive oil for dipping.
Kalamata. Hailing from Greece, these small, pointy, purple-black olives are cured in red wine vinegar brine, making their soft flesh fruity and sharp.
Manzanilla. A large, green, Spanish olive that’s sweet and plump; they’re often pitted and stuffed with pimentos, garlic, blue cheese, or another savory filling.
Niçoise. Diminutive, rich, and nutty-flavored black olives grown near Provence, these are cured in brine and packed in olive oil.
Picholine. Fat, spheroid, green olives grown in France and cured in brine, these have a subtler flavor and may be marinated with herbes de Provence. –Elisa Bosley
Tip: To reduce salt, rinse olives well, then soak overnight in filtered water. Drain before serving.